[generic] What style of Initiative floats your boat?

#1
The Terminator RPG kickstarter turned up (hurrah!) and I've started reading it. It is a moderately crunchy game (but less crunchy than the human skulls that terminators crush beneath their tracks/feet). :) Meanwhile I've just finished reading The Silver Road, which is very narrativist with a system so light it might blow away on the mystical and otherworldly breeze. :)

So in close succession I've encountered Initiative systems that are:
  1. Roll 1d10 and add your Initiative bonus... then declare from lowest to highest... then act from highest to lowest... with rules on holding action, changing initiative order, how an ambush interacts with initiative, etc.
  2. Go clockwise round the table from whoever the GM thinks makes narrative sense to go first.
I'll let you guess which is which!
Now obviously The Terminator initiative rules wouldn't fit The Silver Road and (probably) vice versa. But that aside, what sort of initiative do you prefer and why?

  • I like popcorn initiative, because you can be a bit tactical with it, but without needing pages of rules on holding your actions or going on overwatch or the like.
  • I dislike declare from lowest to highest, then act from highest to lowest, mainly because it slows everything down and makes combats longer... and is usually found in grindy systems where combat already takes up two thirds of the session. (The Terminator has an optional rule where it says to declare and act from highest to lowest).
  • I hate systems where you can get stuck in "not really in the Initiative order yet" limbo, where you have to pass a Fright Check or Coolness Under Fire test or suchlike before you are allowed to act on your turn in the Initiative order. Because characters are supposed to be awesome! If I want to play someone with the Combat Paralysis disadvantage or more risk averse than Shaggy & Scooby, then I'll be RPing that without any diktat from a bad dice roll.
 
#2
I also like popcorn initiative - I used it last night and the players enjoyed setting things up (creating aspects) that they could then use straight away.

But what I really want from an initiative system is to be quick and simple and get out of the way. Combat can be a drag at the best of times - let's not have a fiddly initiative system slow it down even more.
 

ltd

Rune Priest
#3
  • I hate systems where you can get stuck in "not really in the Initiative order yet" limbo, where you have to pass a Fright Check or Coolness Under Fire test or suchlike before you are allowed to act on your turn in the Initiative order. Because characters are supposed to be awesome! If I want to play someone with the Combat Paralysis disadvantage or more risk averse than Shaggy & Scooby, then I'll be RPing that without any diktat from a bad dice roll.
I can understand the dislike for that sort of fiddly rule. That said I'd be tempted to make initiative a function of POW or Willpower or a similar stat - my feeling is it's people with the most bottle who tend to act first in a scrap, not necessarily the most dextrous.
 
#4
Speaking from the perspective of my two favourite RPGS, the FFG Star Wars and the Modiphius 2d20 games like Conan and Star Trek, the flexi-initiative style is my preference. In FFG Star Wars you still roll initiative using the Cool or Vigilance skills but then you can allocate any member of your group to exchange slots with any other team member. The enemies can do same in their initiative slots.

With Modiphius 2d20, this is even better, in that the Players almost always act first, unless the GM spends Doom/Threat to seize initiative. Then it swings PC then GM, then back to PC, etc.

Obviously, because I have lots of beautiful cards, I like using them for Savage Worlds initiative and the cards help identify the positions in the order. It is the constant shuffling for each round that is not ideal. Fria Ligan's YZE uses cards too, the visual aid is their main draw for me.
 
#5
I do like random initiative, e.g. with cards, because there is excitement at who is going to act next. However it does mean that there's no advantage for faster or more nimble characters or NPCs. So my ideal system might be one where initiative is randomised each round, subject to agility and other relevant modifiers (as in D&D), but the order is hidden the players. However in practical terms that means people can't plan their actions so things slow down. I've come round to the standard D&D system as being the most pragmatic, if a but dull.

Traveller has some interesting tweaks on this, with the Tactics roll beforehand, and I've seen some other systems play around with it in interesting ways. Nevertheless you don;t want to make it too fiddly..
 
#6
Obviously, because I have lots of beautiful cards, I like using them for Savage Worlds initiative and the cards help identify the positions in the order. It is the constant shuffling for each round that is not ideal.
In SW you only shuffle the deck on a round where a Joker is drawn
 
#7
Obviously, because I have lots of beautiful cards, I like using them for Savage Worlds initiative and the cards help identify the positions in the order. It is the constant shuffling for each round that is not ideal.
In SW you only shuffle the deck on a round where a Joker is drawn
Yes, that is correct, it just seems, often enough with the fast conbat it feels more often.
 
#9
For D&D 5E, I run the rules as written, because I want to understand how they're meant to work before I start messing with them.

For Savage Worlds, my current method is that unless the NPC foes have surprise, all the PCs go, in whatever order they like, including allied NPCs; then all the NPC opposition, in whatever order I like. This was originally a response to constant complaints from a couple of players about card draw initiative, but actually it works rather well, although it does mean a number of Edges and Hindrances never come into play. My OD&D DM uses this approach too.

It's tempting to go all the way back to Classic Traveller, where everything is simultaneous; but that only works if you keep combat abstract, as CT did.

I think it's Five Parsecs From Home which has fast NPCs, who go before the player, and slow ones, who go after, but I haven't read it so I don't know how that works.
 
#10
Lazy default is "player characters go first". It an easy way to give the party a big advantage without drawing to much attention. Truth of the matter, most of the time I am hoping player characters will win an encounter.

Alternatively I like team-based, rerolled each round. At the start of each round I roll 1d6, even player characters act first, odd the NPCs go first. Additionally in my Fudge game, on a "6" the players characters get a bonus, on a "1" the NPCs get a bonus. It makes combat wildly swingy but it does make the initiatve roll at the start of the round very dramatic.

Savage Worlds card based system is pretty cool too. The overhead of having deal the cards is more than made by the way it takes care of its own bookkeeping and makes the order of play obvious to everyone without needing to call out "Who goes on 7?".

TSR's Marvel Super Heroes' initiative was kind cool in an old wargame sort of way if done by the book (which I don't think it often was). In principle, firstly the GM was meant to decide the action of each NPC in secret and then the player declared their intented action. Only then would initiative get rolled resulting in a fog of war confusion and wasted turns as declared actions of NPCs or PC not actually being relevant anymore by the their turn came up. I can see why some people might dislike this, how tactically this might be frustrating as a game mechanic, but from a narrative point of view frequent sub-optimal or lost actions was quite satisfying and much more comicbook.
 
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#11
I love initiative systems, especially the AD&D one where you role a dice and then add in a weapon speed factor or a spell casting time or something (I don’t know it’s impossible to understand) and find out you can act sometime next week (noting that mist monsters had none of these things). Or the other D&D one where you used your dexterity score (none of the monsters have a dexterity score). So of course, each side just rolled a dice and the highest went first.

Anyway the dr who one seems quite good where fighters go last.
 
#12
Because I have so many beautiful card's, if ny players agree to spice up randomness, for the 5e Adventures in Middle-earth, we may use the initiative bonus as the number of cards in the draw, so you get 1, 2, or 3 max, very rarely 4. Then keep highest and discard the rest. That becomes initiative position like Savage Worlds then..

cards_lotr_winter_court.jpg
 
#13
I prefer the system that I've seen in Dead of Night and LUMEN games:

All the PCs get to go, in whatever order they want to.

If they can't agree, or someone doesn't want to negotiate, then anyone can spend a vital resource point to say "I'm acting right now."

NPCs "act" when PCs miss their rolls, e.g. the consequences of failing your action are represented as enemy action.

There's a GM turn after all the players have acted where they can futz around with the battlefield, e.g. introduce/escalate environmental hazards, have the big ticking clock countdown some more or have the villains make a concerted action to achieve a goal.
 
#15
I realise I had blanked the awfulness of the Aftermath initiative and combat phase system from my mind. PCs had 3 interacting "speed" stats, which determined when in initiative order you started to act, how many times you go a go, and how long the go took to resolve. So it might be:

Tom: acts on 1, resolves on 3, acts on 4, resolves on 6, acts on 7, resolves on 9.
Dick: does nothing until 5 and then acts+resolves on 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Harry: acts on 2, resolves on 6; acts on 7 resolves on 12
 
#16
I realise I had blanked the awfulness of the Aftermath initiative and combat phase system from my mind. PCs had 3 interacting "speed" stats, which determined when in initiative order you started to act, how many times you go a go, and how long the go took to resolve. So it might be:

Tom: acts on 1, resolves on 3, acts on 4, resolves on 6, acts on 7, resolves on 9.
Dick: does nothing until 5 and then acts+resolves on 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Harry: acts on 2, resolves on 6; acts on 7 resolves on 12
Wow! That is deep. Never witnessed such a system in play myself.

But for simulationist play, it has a logic. Fir example, a bodyguard sees a concealed enemy weapon pointed, so acts first, then the gun fires ,but is the bodyguard's dive faster than a speeding bullet, hence,,iit resolves late on 6.
 
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#17
For a few minutes until my brain engaged, I thought all these popcorn 🍿 emojis were indicating that this was a fun and livley thread to watch ...
Of course, it is that too ;)

Me, I like the popcorn system if I've got a group that gets it.
Otherwise, I like a skill / ability score based roll, and I prefer to roll each round, and I prefer if the die involved didn't give too big a swing.
 
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#18
Wow! That is deep. Never witnessed such a system in play myself.

But for simulationist play, it has a logic. Fir example, a bodyguard sees a concealed enemy weapon pointed, so acts first, then the gun fires ,but is the bodyguard's dive faster than a speeding bullet, hence,,iit resolves late on 6.
Yeah I can see the simulationist logic. But unfortunately the logic was trumped by the grinding slowness of it all, combined by the simulation not covering the laws of physics, and there being 3 combat 'speed' stats, not just (1) how quick you are to react to threats and decide what to do and (2) how nimble you are to get the doing done. They had:
  • Base Action Phase (derived from your Speed "attribute saving throw", which in turn is derived from your Speed stat... ). This is the moment when in the initiative order you declare (and roll to hit??? can't remember)
  • Maximum Number of Actions (derived from your Deftness "group", which is derived from your Deftness stat)
  • Phases Consumed in Action (= Base Action Phase divided by Maximum Number of Actions).
For instance in one fight a bad guy appears in a doorway and fires at the PCs. In initiative 'start to act' order...
  1. Martin fires a shotgun at him.
  2. Sandra runs out another door, intending to circle round and attack the bad guy from behind.
  3. Jane throws a spear at him.
  4. Allan charges at him with a knife.
Then due to the delay between starting an action and resolving the action...
  1. Allan arrives in the doorway and stabs the bad guy, wounding him.
  2. Jane's spear arrives in the doorway. Unfortunately Allan is now in front of the NPC, so he gets a spear in the back. He takes damage and falls over.
  3. Allan falling over is a sort of a good thing, because Martin's shotgun blast now passes through the doorway. IIRC the bad guy was still on his feet, so the shotgun hit him.
Thus Allan's character was technically faster than a speeding bullet shotgun blast, as was Jane's hurled spear. To avoid cock-ups like this, each player had to remember not only when their own actions would resolve, but when all the other players' actions resolved too. Which got very meta, very fast.

Sandra, meanwhile, had 3 hours of real time with nothing to do, because it would take about 3 rounds to get behind the bad guys with her movement rate, and the combat the others were doing was excruciatingly sloooooooow to play thru.

We gave up on the Aftermath system shortly after this fight! :)

A much, much better version of trying to simulate what Aftermath was attempting was the Twilight 2013 initiative system. In that one everything resolved on the phase you went on. But what you were doing determined when you got to go again. For instance, say Martin goes on 1:
  • If he just blasts without thinking, it takes 2 phases (1 & 2) and he goes again on 3.
  • If he aims and shoots. That uses more phases, so he goes again on 4.
  • If he throws himself into cover, aims and shoots, it eats up more phases, so he goes again on 6.
Aftermath was just full of bonkers stuff. Like you worked out your skills in chargen and you'd get a number between 0 and 100. So roll percentile dice, right? Nope. Divide all your skills by 5 and roll a d20.
 

Darran

Level 7 Blingmaster
#20
I always liked how Firefly RPG and other Cortex+ games did initiative.
The first player to go chooses who goes next. It could be another player or the GM’s NPC instead.
It just moved so much quicker.

Of course for me I was so used to the RuneQuest way of initiative where it started with the Players stating their intention per round.
The statement of intent was mechanically just for sorting out what the players did during combat but it does open it up for more narrative actions that go beyond the scope of normal combat actions.
 
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